News

Council approves controversial One University Place

By:  Andy Davis

The University Heights City Council, with a handful of votes, on Wednesday approved the controversial commercial and residential development One University Place.

Included in the votes were the planned unit development agreement with Jeff Maxwell and his team, and the use of tax increment financing to fund the project. The project — which includes plans for a pair of buildings to be built on the site of the St. Andrew Presbyterian Church at 1300 Melrose Ave. — has been publicly debated since 2009.

Council member Mike Haverkamp said Wednesday’s votes were the last major step in bringing One University Place to fruition in University Heights. The council voted 4 to 1 on the TIF agreement, Haverkamp said, with council member Silvia Quezada voting against.

“There are still some pieces that will have to happen, but some of the things that we require due to code and ordinance can’t be verified yet, such as dealing with some of the slopes on the property and checking retaining walls, which we can’t do until they’re built,” Haverkamp said. “The whole building permitting process will be how we continue to follow up to make sure everything is happening according to the plans that are laid out and matching what the description was for the planned unit development agreement.”

Maxwell requested $4 million in TIF, or about 10 percent of the $39.3 million project. The city has agreed to provide TIF to the developer in the form of annual tax rebates over a 13.5-year period from money generated by the project. The rebates would amount to $6.7 million — the $4 million plus the $2.7 million in interest the developer would pay over that period through a loan.

Included in the TIF agreement, Haverkamp said, is a provision that stipulates 5 percent of the rebate payments will be funneled to a fund intended for low- to moderate-income housing assistance in University Heights.

“One of the changes we made was, rather than a fixed rebate amount, we’re going to be rebating 95 percent of collected revenues and our intention — even though we can’t bind future councils — would be that that 5 percent would go toward neighborhood stabilization and low- and moderate-income housing assistance,” Haverkamp said.

Quezada said she disagrees with the TIF amount and believes residents have been cheated by the deal.

“Negotiations were cut short at $4 million, and that is not representative of the people. We were elected to make One University Place happen, but we were not elected to stop the TIF negotiation at $4 million. That’s my biggest concern about this whole transaction,” she said.

Maxwell said that the development team is pleased with the council’s approval and said the resulting project is a culmination of seven years of community participation.

“We’re in a great community that we’re looking forward to working with and we’re very anxious to close on the church property within about two weeks,” Maxwell said. “We’re anxiously looking forward to getting started on the first building before the end of August.”

Kevin Monson of Neumann Monson Architects, which is partnering with Maxwell on the project, said the church will remain on the property until June 2016. Work will begin on the south building first, Monson said, which is planned as a mixed-use building with commercial space on the first floor, a meeting space the city will lease to own, and two floors of condominiums.

“The church has a new piece of land purchased and will be developing that. We’ll start work on the south building first and allow them to get further along with their planning. Then, on June 1, they’ll move and we’ll start working on the north building as we complete the south building,” Monson said.

The north building is planned to include five stories of condominiums with two levels of parking below.

Original by Iowa City Press-Citizen.